Storyboard: Amanda Greene

Seeking out magic

Just before graduating ArtCenter, in a graduation review I was asked where I saw myself in five to 10 years. My answer was that I wanted to live in the mountains of Georgia, take pictures, and have a garden where I could grow flowers. The person interviewing me said that it sounded like I wanted to be retired.

The thing is, that’s more or less what my life is now – and I’m not retired! I grow flowers to cut them, take them to my mother, friends, or strangers. I live with my husband and a great dog and I value my privacy. It’s been 20 years since I graduated ArtCenter, and in some ways, I’ve achieved my dream of a slower, gentler pace of life.

My grandparents were small-town folks who lived in the mountains of northeastern Georgia. I saw things on car rides with them that sparked my imagination, things like flea markets and fruit stands. Growing up, I was attracted to tacky objects, like the plastic flowers that are sold at flea markets. There is a fading singularity to small-town America that I cherish. I live for the local general stores, hardware stores, and roadside stands where you can stumble upon forgotten treasures.

I grew up in Atlanta, a good distance away from where I currently reside. One of my high school art teachers showed me an ArtCenter catalogue. He said that if I was really talented, and had a lot of money, I could go there. I had the talent, but not the money. When I eventually moved to Pasadena to start taking ArtCenter classes, I was still young enough to be in high school.

My ArtCenter experience was largely a positive one, not that I didn’t struggle. I was broke much of the time and had no car. I used to walk from ArtCenter’s Hillside Campus to Glendale if I couldn’t get a ride. My first three terms in the Photography department, I kept getting assignments that, to my young, idealistic mind, seemed too technical. I had no interest in focusing the camera or using a light meter just to get a good grade. I was waiting for something poetic to happen. After all, who needs a perfect exposure?

ArtCenter taught me poetry with precision. I remember spending three days working on a black and white assignment. For a grade, the most you could get was four points. I received zero. I told the professor I might as well have hung out by the pool all weekend if I was going to get zero points. The professor told me that if I had exercised that option, I would have failed his class. Right then and there, I learned a valuable lesson: you can utilize all your resources, only to create something that fails, and you still have to pick yourself up and try again.

I recall being in the black and white lab one day, washing negatives. I was venting to a friend, telling them that I was tired of black and white technical assignments. My friend urged me to wait. Next semester, I would be able to begin shooting and printing color. I ended up taking a class with the great Robert Engle, who was my guru when it came to color. Experiences like this are a valuable reminder that graduating from ArtCenter is something of which to be proud.

I now live in a state burdened with complications having to do with history and race. Still, there is much beauty here. I see beauty in things like hand-painted signs, and I catch glimpses of everyday magic outside my passing car window. I don’t have to search for it, really. It’s all there. One just has to pay attention.

Bob Engle and others at ArtCenter taught me the magic of color. Just when I was beginning to feel disenchanted about my chosen medium, the sense of childlike, joyous discovery came rushing back to me. Bob was a kind, loving human being, and I miss him dearly. He nurtured something in me – in all of us, really. He taught us to seek out magic. I see that magic and color still, everywhere I look, in the hand-painted signs, in the plastic flowers, in the smiles of ordinary people I encounter.

The greatest joy I know is when a regular, non-artist person wants to buy a print of mine. Generally, it’s because it reminds them of something from home. We’re all seeking that piece of home, and I am happy to provide just that. My overhead and stress levels are low, and my sense of personal worth is never going to come from how much money I make.

At ArtCenter, I felt like an underdog. In many ways, it was one of the greatest struggles of my life. I was constantly asking myself, “am I good enough?” But I was. I am.

Amanda Greene
BFA 97 Photography
Professional Photographer (Clients include The New York Times, Salesforce, CNN, Outside Magazine, and more)
Author of Rejoice (2019)

ArtCenter taught me poetry with precision.

Amanda GreeneBFA 97 Photography
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